“Dementia affects more than 342,000 Australians - and many other people besides — their loved ones, their friends, and their carers. So what happens to people when they lose a sense of their selves? Can anything be done to help them reconnect with things that matter to them, like spirituality?
Dr John Swinton is one of the world's leading thinkers on this subject, what's called 'disability theology'. His practice stems from the belief that even though it may look to us like our loved one has gone, they haven't gone — the self is still there, it's just the expression of it that's changed. He says disability theology helps us to see properly what it means to be a human being, and that to be human is much more interesting and complicated than the simplistic way that culture tells us it should be.
Dr John Swinton is Professor in Practical Theology and Pastoral Care in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen. He's the author of several books on dementia and theology, including 'Dementia: Living in the Memories of God', and he was in Australia recently as part of his new position with the independent Christian charity HammondCare, who he's helping to develop new practice in theology and spirituality for people living with dementia…”
Podcast here (ABC Local, Sunday Nights). Aired 12th July 2015.
“Biblical stories”, Tacey says, “are metaphorical. They may have been accepted as factual hundreds of years ago, but today they cannot be taken literally.” The recoil for many revolves around the question of “believing”; on the need for literal belief; on the need for literal belief as a badge for belonging. As many of us appreciate, the Bible comprises many different types of literature, and as a consequence requires are wide range of approaches when reading and interpreting. This range is not always in evidence, both in interpretation and application.
Tacey argues that biblical language should not exclusively be read as history, and it was never intended as literal description. Yes, some Biblical texts have spiritual / psychological meaning, and in some cases, he argues they have historical meaning and significance too.
His target is the kind of literalism that often abounds in some circles, in some ways of being church and Christian.
Religion as Metaphor argues that despite what tradition tells us, if we “believe” religious language, we miss religion’s spiritual or deeper meaning and significance.
Tacey argues that religious language was not designed to be historical reporting, but rather to resonate in the soul and direct us toward transcendent realities. Its impact was intended to be closer to poetry than theology. The book uses specific examples to make its case: Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the Kingdom of God, the Apocalypse, Satan, and the Resurrection.
Tacey shows that, with the aid of contemporary thought and depth psychology, we can re-read religious stories as metaphors of the spirit and the interior life. Moving beyond literal thinking will save religion from itself.”
Tacey covered some of this material when he was in New Zealand delivering the John Main Lectures in January this year.
Most recently, he appeared on ABC radio show The Spirit of Things. It aired on Sunday 31st May 2015 and can be found as a downloable podcast here. You’ll also find a 2012 talk (the text) on many of the themes Tacey has covered in his book attached as a PDF to the bottom of this post.
“Prolific writer on spirituality, David Tacey says we shouldn't, and furthermore it undermines faith.
In his new book, Beyond Literal Belief, Tacey also takes to task the scientifically minded and self-styled 'progressives' who dismiss the Bible as 'mere myth'.
David talks to The Spirit of Things’ Rachael Kohn about why the metaphorical meaning of religious texts is crucial to faith.”
I’ve always loved the picture that accompanies this post. I’ve loved too Luke’s story of the conversation on the road to Emmaus.
In part, it reminds me of paintings by Euan Macleod. Like Macleod’s paintings it evokes interesting questions, e.g. what would I want to talk about in Jesus’ presence? Who are the fellow wayfarers in my life who most open up to me new ways of seeing, hearing and understanding? What am I grateful for, and learning in my encounters with others?
While the book is too expensive for me to purchase, my own imagination was stirred by this nice summing up of the central theme in Bachelard’s fascinating book, Resurrection and Moral Imagination. The summing up (below) is from an online review by Phillip McCosker, published in The Tablet last June (emphasis, mine).
Transcendence in ethics;
Resurrection and transcendence;
Resurrection, imagination and ethics;
Living beyond death and judgement;
Mortality and moral meaning;
The practice of resurrection ethics: secularization, contemplation and the Church;
“…Bachelard’s game-changing vision is quite different from that of her fellow Anglican moral theologian Oliver O’Donovan’s earlier Resurrection and Moral Order. For O’Donovan, ethics must be founded on the Resurrection because it vindicates the created order and its morality; for Bachelard, the Resurrection gives a new world from which to act, and that world can be perceived even without explicit religious belonging…
… Crucial here is Murdoch’s conviction, which Bachelard makes central, that moral differences between us are not the result of making different moral choices within a shared world – choosing different items from the same menu – but rather because we perceive different worlds. We’re in very different eateries: the suicide bomber and the vegan live in different moral universes. Building on Wittgenstein, Bachelard emphasises how our unconscious background pictures of reality filter and unwittingly influence our every thought and action. The task of the moral life is to reveal the world as it really is and attend to it, avoiding the false consolations of attractive but illusory and facile views.
Our regular and predictable celebrations of Easter can deaden our sense of the utter strangeness of the Resurrection. Liturgical familiarity breeds not contempt exactly, but apathy or cosiness, a sense of “same old, same old”. We are now bored by the events that filled the early Christians with dumbstruck fear and awe, turning their conceptual universes inside out and upside down. Nothing was the same again, all re-constellated around the risen Jesus…
… By complete contrast, in the bizarre new world revealed by the Resurrection, we live a life after the pattern of Jesus. This is what the Spirit brings about. Not a life of prescriptions and proscriptions but a life shaped by a person, a person whose identity is constituted, not over against others, but by constant trust and dependence on the Father: an outward-looking life in which death is revealed to be a penultimate reality; a life sourced in God’s boundless generosity and grace, lived from and into the open and uncontrollable future.
If we receive our real identities from the risen Jesus who is always ahead of us as he calls us, this fundamentally alters our relations with each other. We cannot control our identities: we receive them as gifts. Likewise we do not possess goodness: we participate in it as it transcends us. For Bachelard, a moral life sourced in the Resurrection reveals the true depth of reality; it is always vulnerable because it lives from the unknown future and under God’s judgement alone, and it is therefore always compassionate, producing a moral discourse which doesn’t trade in easy certainties or wishy-washy niceness but is messy, unsystematic and painful…”
While I don’t agree theologically with everything Marcus Borg has written / said, I work hard to remain open to alternative perspectives ad standpoints. I always find something in his learning, insights and perspectives that is helpful
“Marcus Borg's reflections on Jesus are among the most influential in contemporary Christian thought, yet as an American "progressive" theologian and Jesus scholar he was one of the first to challenge literalist interpretations of the Bible. This is the last interview in Australia before he died at the age of 72 early this year. Anglican priest and founder of Benedictus Contemplative church, Sarah Bachelard offers an Easter reflection on the Resurrection.” She has written what looks like a fascinating book, albeit a very expensive book.
Listen to the 53 min broadcast here on The Spirit of Things.
Today I want to highlight a series of four brief conversations (Mp3 audio) in which theologian Douglas Campbell talks about the following topics. Each conversation is around 30 mins, and provides a good introduction to each of those topics. They were recorded a few years back.
“…Street theatre is the best way to describe Jesus’ actions on the first Palm Sunday. It wasn't entertainment, though people had a great day out. Jesus was saying something you couldn't say any other way. Part of the question of Palm Sunday is what it all meant, what it all means today. Which story was he enacting? What sort of king was he becoming?
Jesus didn't do a lot of this kind of thing. He clearly intended that these actions would resonate, sending echoes bouncing off the walls not only of Jerusalem but of the Scripture-soaked imaginations of the bystanders, particularly his disciples, who may have thought they were following a Theseus only to find that their king had turned into a stranger, darker monarch who they became afraid to know. Which story were they living in? Which king did they think they were following?...”
~ NT. Wright, What Palm Sunday Means: God's Street Theatre Comes to Jerusalem (complete article can be found online here).
I first came across Simon Carey Holt through his association with Robert Banks (Redeeming the Routines) prior to the 1997 publication of IVP’s The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity: An A-Z of following Christ in Every Aspect of Life. Simon contributed some thoughts on Eating and Home.
Then it was The Bible and the Business of Life: Essays in Honour of Robert J. Banks' which Simon co-edited (with Gordon Preece), and to which he contributed a co-written (with his wife) essay, Verandas and God: A Personal Reflection on Spirituality and the Built Environment. The book was published in 2004.
Next came his 2009 Tinsley Annual Lecture, A Mortgage, A Motor-Mower and a Mission: Following Jesus into Suburbia, plus a series of really helpful reflections, which you’ll now find on his Eating Heaven blog: (revised) Eating, Family and Faith (2001 & 2010); The Hospitality of God and the Hospitality Industry (2002); and Eating as a Spiritual Act (2011).
Then came his award-winning God Next-Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighborhood (pub. 2007 / Victoria: Acorn Press Ltd), which is an absolute gem. It gets at what makes Simon such a useful conversation partner – he’s what we might call a “practical theologian”; a theologian grounded in the ordinary and the everyday.
Simon is now the Senior Minister of Collins Street Baptist in Melbourne (after having (most recently) served as Senior Lecturer in Practical Theology & Associate Dean: Research, Whitley College, Melbourne, Australia - January 2001 – December 2009; Director of Academic Development & Lecturer in Practical Theology, Macquarie Christian Studies Institute, Macquarie University, Sydney - January 1999 – December 2000.
Finally, most recently, there’s his book Eating Heaven: Spirituality at the Table (pub. ). A friend justbrought me back a copy from Melbourne, now it’s sitting beside me, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.
If you want to an aural introduction to Simon, here are six short, thought-provoking, conversations in which he explores an ethical life (scroll down via the link) – the practicalities of ethical practice. They were broadcast in 2011. He discusses: lifestyle ethics, those vital values that determine our small, everyday decisions; the ethics of suburbia and the car; the impacts of our mobile society. What are the pros and cons of moving around, versus staying put?; ethics in a consumerist society; the ethical maze of "Spirituality for Sale"; and ethics in our frantic-paced lifestyle.
“The heart of Jesus' teaching was the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), together with his parables, many of which are about losing and then finding (the lost son, the lost coin, the lost sheep). All of these teachings, and Jesus' lived example, call us to win by losing, which is so countercultural and so paradoxical that Jesus finally had to live it himself to show us it could be true.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the so-called Eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12). Read them from the perspective of how they describe Jesus as the suffering servant:
How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Meister Eckhart, OP, (1260-1328) said that to be poor in spirit is to "know nothing, want nothing, and have nothing." That sounds a lot like Buddhism! And this is Jesus' opening line.
Happy the gentle: they shall have the earth for their heritage.
This is so contrary to our love of power, certitude, and control. Who of us really believes this? Could you ever build an empire or even an institution with this kind of naïveté?
Happy those who mourn: they shall be comforted.
We now know that grief is a privileged portal into soul work and transformation.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right: they shall be satisfied.
Happy are the merciful: they shall have mercy shown them.
There is a perfect correlation between how we give and what we can receive. Consider this for the rest of your life.
Happy the pure in heart; they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)
Each of these invitations, for that is what they are, are concerned about vulnerable and outpouring relationship, which is necessary for the second half of life, in the same way that the Ten Commandments serve for ego-identity in the first half of life. The Beatitudes are descriptions of a mature human person much more than prescriptions for other-worldly salvation. They offer something astoundingly new to human consciousness, which is a lifestyle based on vulnerability, mutuality, service--and thus a willingness to be usable for God, history, healing, and one another…”
~ Richard Rohr - Adapted from The Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament, pp. 21-22 (published by Franciscan Media); and The Path of Descent, disc 4.